Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Suntop Homes

Recent view of the Suntop Homes in Ardmore, PA
More Frank Lloyd Wright:  The Quads
Remember how in my last Usonian post I remarked that FLW never quite hit the "below $5,000" cost for a modest home?  No?  Well go there now and read about it.  Anyway, that statement isn't quite accurate.  In 1939, FLW embarked on a project in Ardmore, PA (suburb of Philadelphia) to build a series of "Quadruple Homes".  The idea is similar to a twin or duplex home, except that each home would be turned 90 degrees to its neighbor--thus, one unit faced north, one faced east, one faced south, one faced west.  Otherwise, the units were identical.  By putting four houses together, FLW was able to reduce the external surface area, thus reducing the most expensive part of the house.  The total cost to build one four-unit building was $16,000--$4,000 per unit.  The amazing thing about the Suntop Homes is that the building does not look like a multi-family dwelling--it gives the appearance of being a large, modernist home.

View of the Suntop Homes soon after construction, 1939
The Design--Truly Usonian  
Like the other Usonian homes, the Suntop Quads have many built-in furnishings.  The units have a flat roof, and feature board-and-batten walls.  There are many windows on the exterior walls to draw attention from the fact that each unit has two party-walls.  Each unit contained a carport (for one car) on the ground floor.  Unlike most other Usonians, the Suntop homes each have a partial basement (for utilities) and are three stories tall--see below for floorplans.  Wright managed to squeeze a remarkable amount of space into each of these units--four bedrooms, an eating area, a generous living room, and a nice terrace on the "penthouse" level.

Originally, four structures were planned for a total of sixteen units.  Pressure from the borough of Ardmore to limit the amount of "high density" housing prohibited the project from moving forward.  The one structure that was built remains today, with all four units being used for their original purpose.  There was a fire in one unit, which has since been altered.  Some of the carports have been enclosed to add family rooms.  These units periodically come up for sale--recently, one came up for rent at a cost of $1800 per month--my how the definition of "affordable" has changed!  Wright tried to take this quad home model and use it for a development of government-sponsored housing in Pittsfield, MA, but political pressure from local Massachusetts architects led the project to be awarded to an architect registered in that state.

Floorplan, showing all four levels (including basement)

Under construction

Courtyard view
Plan for the Pittsfield Project--Unrealized

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